In a meeting yesterday with Home Office Ministers John Denham and Angela Eagle, a Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) delegation explained its concerns on behalf of the Muslim community about the proposed legislation on incitement to religious hatred and religiously aggravated offences.
“Our main concerns are threefold,” said Mahmud Al-Rashid, Deputy Secretary-General of the MCB. “Firstly, the fact that the incitement legislation is being brought in as part of the anti-terrorism package. Secondly, the real risk that the Muslim community will be targeted by law enforcement agencies, and thirdly, the continuing need for comprehensive civil anti-discrimination legislation was not being given due importance.”
Following the meeting Mr Al-Rashid said, “The Muslim Council of Britain fully supports the present proposals to extend the incitement provisions in the Public Order Act 1986 to cover incitement to religious hatred and to introduce religiously aggravated offences by amendment to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The Ministers assured us that the same safeguards and reporting arrangements that apply to the prosecution of cases of incitement to racial hatred will apply to the new offences.”
“They promised that we would be fully consulted soon on the proposals to implement the EU Employment Directive outlawing discrimination in employment on religious and other grounds and we made it clear we would press for this to be done through primary legislation. They also agreed to meet us during this consultation period to discuss ways of tackling religious discrimination beyond the field of employment in the light of the findings of the research published earlier this year. We said we would be looking for protection for faith communities equivalent to that in race relations legislation.”
Angela Eagle said, ” I am pleased we have the support of the Muslim Council for these measures and I hope this will help those opposed to them to re-consider their views. I am happy to assure everyone that the proposed legislation will not target any particular faith group but only persons who commit the offences whatever their religion or belief. I am very willing to discuss with representatives of the faith communities further ways of tackling other forms of religious discrimination during the period of consultation on the EU Employment Directive.”
Ms Eagle acknowledged that the MCB’s long-standing aim of comprehensive civil anti-discrimination legislation was a legitimate one and that her government would listen to any representations made by the Muslim, and other faith communities. The government was committed to building a society where every citizen could exercise their full potential without any legal hindrances.